About the Definitive Map
The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 required every county council in England and Wales to survey their area and publish a Definitive Map and Statement of public rights of way.
The Definitive Map and Statement is the conclusive legal record of the public rights of way in the county. This means that if a route is shown on the Definitive Map and Statement, it is conclusive proof that that route is a public right of way which the public are entitled to use.
The Definitive Map shows the position and status of each public right of way, while the accompanying statement is a list describing their location and may include additional information on widths and whether there are any gates or stiles across a route.
The council has a legal duty to keep all of the public rights of way shown in the Definitive Map and Statement open and available for the public to use. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, councils are required to keep their Definitive Maps and Statements under continuous review to incorporate changes made through legal orders such as diversions and modifications.
The information on the Definitive Map is used by Ordnance Survey to show public rights of way on their maps. However, their maps also show some non-Definitive paths, and as a result, OS maps should not be used as a substitute for the legal record of public rights of way.
It is advisable for land managers to be aware of any public rights of way affecting their land, and they should refer to the Definitive Map and Statement for this information. Similarly, anyone interested in purchasing land should also check whether any public rights of way affect the land they intend to purchase.
How paths get on the Definitive Map
The first Definitive Map was drawn up and agreed on 1 October 1952 following a long public consultation process in each area of the county. The Map was further reviewed between 1972 and 1989, when the current Definitive Map was produced, and many paths were added during this period. In all cases, affected landowners were consulted and informed of each addition of a path to the Map.
Some paths are not used as frequently as others, and may appear to have fallen into disuse, leading to the impression that a 'path has never been there'. When property is bought and sold, the information regarding the existence of public rights of way should always be declared by the vendor to the purchaser. When buying property, particularly in rural areas, you should always make sure that you, or your solicitor, check the Definitive Map for the existence of public rights of way affecting the property you are buying.